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MPs renew call for PPP Arbiter to have more powers

MPs last week renewed their call for the government to create stronger powers for the PPP Arbiter Chris Bolt to ensure that Tube upgrade works are efficiently delivered.

The Commons Transport Select Committee said the Arbiter should have greater powers to collect information on the works across the entire underground network, to deliver greater transparency and accountability to taxpayers and passengers.

“Two years ago, this committee called for the PPP Arbiter to be given extra powers so that he could report on the efficiency of London Underground’s work on the former Metronet lines,” said committee chairman Louise Ellman MP, following the launch of its report Update on the London Underground and the Public Private Partnership. “We are disappointed that the government has not acted on our recommendation.

“We reiterate our recommendation in the strongest possible terms. Since London Underground (LU) has cut out many of the inefficiencies inherited from the failed operator Metronet, it should have nothing to hide from greater transparency and accountability.”

During its inquiry into the current state of the PPP, the committee looked at the record of Tube Lines - the remaining private company involved in the PPP - and at the record of LU (which in 2008 took over the management of lines formerly run by Metronet.

The Transport Committee concluded that there is a wealth of data available about Tube Lines’s performance on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines but far too little data is available about the work of the LU, which is now responsible for most of the network.

It added that, stoked by London mayor Boris Johnson, relations between Tube Lines and Transport for London (TfL)(along with its subsidiary LU) had become increasingly antagonistic, not helped by repeated claim and counter-claim from each side conducted through the media.

“We stand by our previous conclusions that the PPP is fundamentally flawed,” said Ellman. “Although the performance of Tube Lines has in some cases been exemplary, its failure to upgrade the Jubilee Line on time marred its overall record badly.

“Furthermore, we are concerned that Tube Lines’ practice of seconding staff from its parent companies may tempt Tube Lines to award business to contractors that do not possess the required expertise.”

The committee also recommended:

  • That the government should prioritise transparency and accountability to taxpayers and passengers by extending the PPP Arbiter’s powers for the collection of data across the entire underground network—LU managed lines as well as those managed by Tube Lines.This reiterates the committee’s 2008 recommendation that wherever taxpayers’ money is spent by LU, it must be accounted for in an open and transparent manner.
  • Tube Lines must learn key lessons from its poor performance on the Jubilee line upgrade in order to minimise missed deadlines and passenger disruptions during future projects. As part of this, Tube Lines must publish plans for avoiding similar overruns to its projects in the future.
  • To avoid squabbling about access in future between TfL and LU on the one hand and Tube Lines on the other, the neutral PPP Arbiter should decide all requests for additional line closures. The Department for Transport should revise the PPP agreement to put this change into effect.
  • To help companies address performance problems and prepare for periodic reviews, the Arbiter should carry out an annual review of all PPP contracts including those transferred to LU.

Readers' comments (1)

  • I am not aquainted with the particular details of this project.

    However, one of the biggest problems on such projects, particularly with Utility/Transport works linked to ongoing live services' systems, is that on similar "in-house" projects the Clients previously covered for the typical multitude of inefficiencies, unforeseen problems, and "additional works" that arose by raiding various other budgets within their control. There was no effective accountability on a project by project basis and the true overall project costs and reasons for delays never properly emerged. When similar works are let on a DBFO or PPP basis, many of these additional cost/delay risks and responsibilies become genuine claimed items and overall eventual costs and project implementation periods are then too often unfairly judged against the price/time originally set out in the Contract without allowances for what the Client would have previously spent in time and money outside that project's budget when running a similar project "in-house". Such unfair comparisons are also often made on projects where the Works scope and the responsibility splits have been inadequately defined within the Contract or the interfaces with working systems have not been adequately defined or managed by the Client.

    The current U.K. economic climate dicates that a similar enpowered Arbiter - ideally an experienced Engineer/Project Manager, should be appointed on all new UK government directly or indirectly funded major infrastructure and utilities projects - including this LU Project. This would not only get ultimate prices and project periods reduced but would also helped to identify to the public where blame for failing projects really lies.

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